Tag Archives: Goldsmiths

The artist who draws on comedians’ ideas + a mouthful of British swearing

Stand-up comedy with occasional lateral art

Stand-up comedy + an occasional bit of art

“What shall I call you in my blog?” I asked.

“People know me as Richie Smallsmore,” said the person who is not actually Richie Smallsmore. The real person is in the fourth year of his PhD on the War in Croatia 1991-1995.

But, since June 2012, the person who is not Richie Smallsmore has also been organising almost-but-not-necessarily-exactly monthly comedy nights at Goldsmiths College in South East London.

“Do you want to become a full-time comedy promoter when you finish your PhD?” I asked.

“Definitely not.”

Richie Smallsmore is a character act – “an arrogant deluded business guru”.

“The ideal character,” I suggested, “to be a comedy promoter.”

I went to Goldsmiths College last night to see the monthly comedy night he co-organises with Gwyn Davies and which, this month, had additional ‘live scribing’ – a concept I am ashamed to say I had never heard of.

“Live scribing,” explained the man who is not Richie Smallsmore, “is when an artist quickly draws representations/interpretations of what’s going on – in this case the ideas in the stand-up comedy. These huge images are then displayed as our night progresses. We put together a video about it on YouTube.”

Richie Smallmore & Gwyn Davies last night at Goldsmiths

Richie Smallsmore and Gwyn Davies last night at Goldsmiths

Goldsmiths Comedy promoters (not) Richie Smallwood and Gwyn Davies (he’s not Irish) tested the idea of ‘Live Scribing’ for a comedy show in May this year and last night was their second trial run.

Artist Peter Morey was a school friend of Richie’s, so was an obvious choice. He has just finished an MA in Illustration at Falmouth. His BA was in Philosophy.

“The philosophy kind of feeds into some of this stuff,” he told me last night. “Maybe not so much into the comedy, but some of the other stuff I do.”

“Which is?”

Peter Morey last night

Artist Peter Morey shared some comics’ thoughts last night

“I create comics and I screen print things but I also do this live scribing. It’s visual thinking. I’ve done it for meetings and conferences and for Lady Gabby, a punk poet, in Berlin. For her, I was doing this kind of stuff onto a wall in Berlin.”

“And you’ve done it for conferences?” I asked.

“I’m aiming to do more of that,” Peter told me. “I’m in the room with them while they’re having their meeting or conference.”

“What do they get out of it?” I asked.

“It’s visual thinking, right?… You’re giving a visual take on whatever is said… They’re seeing what they’re saying being visualised. I guess they get to see their ideas in a different light. Some of it might not be things people have noticed they’re saying – metaphors, figures of speech.”

Peter Morey drew on comedians’ thought processes last night

Drawing on performers’ lateral thought processes last night

I asked: “An example of the sort of conference you’ve done it for?”

“One was on sustainable energy,” explained Peter. “It’s a bit like being a jester in a court. You’re giving a perspective on proceedings that wouldn’t be said by anyone else in the room.

“It’s a new field of illustration. It’s been done before – not necessarily live. There’s a thing called RSA Animate. But I don’t think it has been done at comedy shows.”

“You are hidden from view behind a screen,” I said, “so you hear but don’t see the acts. Why?”

One of three large canvasses created last night

One of three large canvasses created last night

“I draw a lot from my own imagination,” said Peter. “If I see the acts, I’m going to be influenced by the way they look and what I see in the room. But, if I just rely on what they say, I can let my visual imagination go wild and latch onto metaphors, figures of speech, knob gags and just go with it.”

“So,” I said, “it’s not you observing their acts but you observing their thoughts.”

“Yes. It’s making cartoons out of what they say, but often in a lateral way.”

“And it’s called live scribing?”

“Here, yes,” said Peter. “In the US, it’s called graphic facilitation.”

“It would be,” I said. “They just love adding syllables and sounding serious. The British language tends to use simpler words.”

After I left Goldsmiths and got home in the early hours of this morning, there was a Comment waiting for approval on the ‘About Me’ page of this blog. I was going to approve the Comment, but then decided not to. I may have been wrong.

It reads:

“What an absolute fuckin no mark you are, cuntface. Ignorance. What a fuckin poor show. Blair went to the editors about this? Seriously? We live in the UK. We fuckin built this country. Working class, peasant class, middle class and elite. You could never understand because of where you were brought up. Utterly without comprehension. Embarrassing.”

I was not quite sure if this message – allegedly from someone called Fredja with a hotmail.com address – was a very clever or a very dumb idea.

On the face of it, the comment is quite dumb. Why think that someone called ‘John Fleming’ was not brought up in Britain – unless the person thinks I am actually from Flanders’ fair fields?

On the other hand, it could be one of those spam messages just trying to elicit the response of a click or a reply.

Or maybe he or she could have a valid opinion.

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Filed under Art, cartoons, Comedy, London

I can only barely remember Malcolm Hardee’s old comedy club The Tunnel

Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Club in the 1980s
(photo courtesy of Steve Taylor)

In the early hours of this morning, I was talking to a friend who knew the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. She met him as a neighbour before she knew he was a comic or a club owner and she did not go to his Sunday night Tunnel Club primarily for the comedy.

“I used to play pool there,” she told me.

“Not to watch the shows?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” she said. It’s late. I can’t really remember. I must’ve not watched the shows sometimes because I was playing pool. I didn’t go there that often, because it was a long walk in the night from Greenwich, where I lived.”

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much at all,” I said.

“But you can’t remember what happened yesterday,” she said.

I have a notoriously bad memory. I have to write everything down.

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much either,” my friend said. “So you’re never going to get a blog out of this.”

“Was the stage in a corner?” I asked. “You came in the door and turned right, didn’t you? But I think there was something odd about the positioning of the stage.”

“The bar was in the middle,” my friend explained. “On one side were the pool tables; on the other side was the bar; and, at the end was the room with the show in.”

“Was it a separate room?” I asked, surprised. I remembered it being one large pub room.

“It was quite a large room,” she said. “It wasn’t pokey. That was pleasant for a start. And the fact there were two pool tables and one of them was usually free. That was great. Then there was sometimes someone I fancied there. I loved that.”

“The audience always threw beer glasses at acts they didn’t like,” I said.

“It wasn’t dangerous for me,” my friend said, “because I always stood at the back. I didn’t sit in a seat.”

“I remember standing,” I said. “I don’t remember seats. Were you there the night Babs what’s-er-name got hit by a glass?”

“No,” my friend said, opening up her laptop computer to check her e-mails.

“Look, John,” she said, “I’m too tired to remember. Phone up Lewis Schaffer if you want a blog. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be feeling pissed-off. Is it Tuesday and Wednesday he does his Soho gigs? Phone him up and ask him how his gig was last night and say how you went to someone else’s show. That’ll cheer him up.”

The Tunnel film documentary

“People who never went to the Tunnel think it was a rowdy bear pit,” I said. “Well, I suppose it was. People were always throwing glasses at the acts. That’s rowdy. Even if they only threw them at bad acts.”

“Well,” my friend reminded me, “at that time, people threw glasses at punk bands. If you went to see a rock band, no-one was able to dance any more. Disco had vanished because people were spitting and pogo-ing.”

“The Tunnel was 1984-1988, though,” I said.

“All I know,” my friend said, “is that, in the late-1970s, there was a sudden moment when lots of pogo-ing was happening and people were spitting.”

“That was before AIDs,” I mused.

“The bands on stage were spitting at the audience,” my friend continued. “You didn’t want to sit in the front rows. If anyone danced, the floor was taken over by young men pogo-ing and bashing into each other so, if you were a woman, you couldn’t dance. That was what social nights out were turning into half the time.

“People throwing glasses at acts in The Tunnel wasn’t surprising. That’s what was happening at the music gigs as well. Musicians on stage would swing the microphone stand and whack it around with people going Whoooaaa! and ducking their heads. You would think Doh! I’m not going near the front. Punk started in 1977, but it was pretty well established by, say, 1979 and, after that, things were getting more and more seedy.

“Before then, people used to wear T-shirts saying LOVE and stuff with rainbows and hearts printed on them. After Punk started it wasn’t just ripped shirts and razor blades and studs and chains round the trousers… people had emblazoned on their T-shirts Oh, fucking hell! and Wot you looking at? and Fuck off, cunt. No-one was having Love and Peace on their T-shirts any more. So, a few years later, if people in a comedy club are throwing glasses…”

“The Tunnel must have been filled with smoke,” I said. “because people were still smoking inside pubs and clubs. It must’ve smelled of beer and fags. I don’t remember.”

“I don’t remember the smell,” my friend said, looking at her computer. “I’ve got a lot of spam.”

“Malcolm and I could never remember when we met,” I said. “It must have been around 1985 or 1986 because he was managing acts and I was looking for acts which might be useful on TV for Surprise! Surprise! or Game For a Laugh. I think I went to The Tunnel and saw Gary Howard and maybe The Greatest Show On Legs.”

“There was that guy with the dog,” my friend said.

“The Joan Collins Fan Club,” I prompted. “Julian Clary.”

“He was on at The Tunnel a lot,” my friend said. “It seemed to me, when I went, he was often on. I didn’t go that often. One time someone I knew stopped and chatted to him because they knew him from Goldsmiths College in New Cross.”

“I’ve never associated him with Malcolm,” I said. “Maybe he was around Malcolm before my time or maybe I’ve just forgotten.”

“He was there a lot,” my friend said. I remember Jerry Sadowitz too.”

“I must have seen him perform there,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I first went there. I can’t remember. I knew Malcolm around the time he released that album for Jerry – Was it called Gobshite? – It had to be withdrawn in case Jimmy Saville sued for libel.”

“I remember Harry Enfield,” my friend said. “I don’t remember seeing him perform… He was there as… someone who…”

“…who was in the audience,” I prompted.

“Well, he wasn’t in the audience,” she said. “He was a friend of Malcolm’s. I don’t remember seeing him perform. Just like Jools Holland went along as a friend of Malcolm’s, but I don’t remember seeing him perform there.”

“I remember the man who tortured teddy bears,” I said. “He was wonderful. Steve something-or-other. He had a wheel of death for the teddy bear.”

“I didn’t particularly think of it as a place to watch acts,” my friend said. “It was a chance to go out and I went along to play pool. I liked playing pool in those days. There was the odd person to fancy and the music was nice.”

“It was always easy listening music before the show, wasn’t it?” I said.

“People like Etta James,” my friend agreed. “At Last. I don’t know if Martin Potter (the sound man) used that track at The Tunnel, but he always put it on at Up The Creek.”

“Once,” I said, “I asked Malcolm why he didn’t play rock music before gigs, because that was more the audience, and he told me he played more sophisticated jazz-type stuff because he thought it put the audience in the right mood to see people perform comedy. Relaxed them. I thought Malcolm chose the music, but you told me it was Martin Potter.”

“Etta James singing Sunday Kind of Love,” my friend said,” He always played that because it was Sunday.”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“You never do,” my friend said. “That’s why you write things down.”

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Music, Punk, UK

The death yesterday of Joan Hardee, mother of British alternative comedy’s godfather Malcolm Hardee

(This was also published by the Huffington Post and, in a shortened version, on the comedy industry website Chortle)

Last night, when I was on a train coming home from London, the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s sister Clare phoned to tell me that their mother Joan had died earlier in the day.

Joan was 84. I met her over perhaps 25 years. She was feisty, redoubtable and with a mind so sharp you could cut cheese with it. She doted on Malcolm and, when he drowned in 2005, it – as you would expect – affected her greatly for the rest of her life. She died from pneumonia, peacefully, in a nursing home near Deal in Kent.

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

In his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm said:

“Just after my dad was demobbed, he met my mum in a pub called The Dutch House on the A20. They met on VJ Night.

“He was quite old when he got married – 32 – and my mum was 20. They stayed rooted in South East London, with never a thought of leaving.”

Joan gave birth to Malcolm in 1950; then her daughter Clare ten years later; and son Alexander another ten years later.

Malcolm remembered:

“I was born in the Tuberculosis Ward of Lewisham Hospital in South East London. Immediately after my birth, I was taken from my mother and moved to an orphanage in a place aptly named Ware in Hertfordshire. We were not to meet again for nearly two years.

“The reason I was shuffled off to Hertfordshire was that my mother had tuberculosis, which is extremely infectious and, in those days, it was unknown for working class fathers to look after young children.

“When my mother was released from the solitary confinement of the TB sanatorium, she came to collect me from the Hertfordshire orphanage. She said she nearly chose the wrong child as there was an angelic lookalike contentedly sitting in one corner, quiet as a mouse. But I was the screaming brat in the other corner.

“We went to live in Lewisham, at 20 Grover Court, in a modest block of genteel 1930s apartments with flat roofs. They are still there, set off the main road: two storeys, four flats to each storey, about 100 flats in all.. They look a little like holiday flats in some rundown seaside town like Herne Bay or Lyme Regis. It was fairly self-contained: almost like a village in itself.”

Joan’s husband was a lighterman. He worked on the River Thames, as the captain of a tugboat, pulling lighters (barges). Malcolm told me:

“People who worked on the River used to earn quite a good wage. Sometime around 1960, I remember a figure of £40 a week being quoted, which was probably about the same as a doctor got in those days.”

But Joan did not have it easy.

Comedian Arthur Smith told me yesterday: “Joan had a kind of necessary but graceful stoicism.”

Malcolm, in particular, must have been a difficult son to bring up.

Malcolm’s friend Digger Dave told me: “Nothing could faze Joan. She just took everything in her stride.”

And she had to.

In his autobiography, Malcolm remembered what he was like as a kid:

“I sometimes used to go shopping with my mother and pretend she was nicking stuff off the shelves. I would get up to the till and say: You know that’s Doris the Dip don’t you?  

“She actually got arrested once – well, stopped  – in Chiesmans Department Store in Lewisham. She’s always been indecisive, picking up things and putting them back and, with me standing behind her, she looked very suspicious. She wasn’t arrested – just stopped. She said she’d never felt so insulted in her life. But my mother has a sense of humour. I suppose she has had to have.”

“Malcolm’s entire family,” comedian Jenny Eclair told me yesterday, “are like him. They are rich, in the best sense of the word – there was so much love amongst the Hardees.”

As a surprise on her 70th birthday, Joan received a birthday card from artist Damien Hirst

Well, it was not a card. He sent her one of his paintings with Happy Birthday, Joan on the bottom right hand corner.

Joan used to work at Goldsmiths, the art college in south-east London where Hirst had studied. When he was a student, she had sometimes let him and other impoverished students share her sandwiches.

Malcolm had bumped into Damien in the Groucho Club in London and asked him if he would create a card for Joan in time for her birthday party.

The Daily Telegraph quoted Joan as saying of the students at Goldsmiths: “I used to buy some of their work at the annual degree show although I didn’t know that much about art actually. I never bought anything by Damien Hirst. I think he did a cow for his degree show and I must have thought Where would I put it?

Malcolm’s son Frank – Joan’s grandson – says: “For me, Grandjo was another Hardee eccentric who loved life and enjoyed to socialise.”

Frank is coming back from South Korea and his sister Poppy is coming back from Palestine to attend Joan’s funeral, details of which have not yet been finalised as I write this.

I liked Joan a lot. She had more than a spark of originality and a keen, intelligent mind.

Poppy writes from Palestine:

“One of my fondest memories of Grandjo comes from the time when I must have been around 10 and she had sold the Damien Hirst dot painting. She held a party to celebrate with the theme of ‘dress as a famous artist/piece of art work.’ The room was full of sunflowers (a strange take on surrealism by Steve Bowditch, if I remember), me as the lady of Shalott and dad as a policeman (the artist John Constable). Joan roamed around the room in an outrageous 1930s flapper girl costume (she was over 70 at this point) enjoying life and the company of eccentric friends and relatives.

“I will remember Joan as a true character – interesting, vibrant, artistic – and I think the person who has most influenced my vintage style and love of a charity shop bargain. She also gave me also my love of old films, celebrity memoirs and whiskey!

“I always loved Christmas with Joan – her snobbery regarding eating only Capon Chicken (simply corn fed darling!), the argument over whether the meat was drier than last year’s lunch and her love of snowballs (the drink) at 10am! I also loved her for the ‘Queen Mother’s Sausages’ (sold by the local butcher and of a type rumoured to have been once eaten by the QM!), trips to the pantomime as our Christmas gift every year and her speciality onion soup!

“The last years of Joan’s life were incredibly difficult for both herself and the family. My aunt Clare and I took on Power of Attorney for her as she was unable to take decisions for herself and I pray and believe we made the best decisions for her regarding making her last years comfortable and the least distressing they could be in light of her dementia and other health problems.

“I thank Clare, who took on the majority of this task with the amazing support of her husband Steve and gave herself selflessly to the task of primary career and decision maker for Joan. No-one could have done a better job than the two of them and it is thanks to them that Joan got the right care and support in these past months and experienced the peaceful death she deserved.

“I think that, in sad reality, Joan never really recovered from the loss of our father Malcolm and it is a comfort that they will rest together at Shooters Hill in London.”

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Filed under Comedy, Obituary